Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event or learning that a traumatic event has happened to a loved one. PTSD is most often associated with veterans and wartime involvement, but there are many experiences that can cause PTSD. Some examples are:
Threat of death or serious injury
Sexual abuse, violence and rape
Chronic physical abuse, severe emotional abuse and neglect
Living through natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, or fires
Community violence like attacks at a local school
The suicide of a friend or family member
Post-traumatic stress disorder often accompanies other anxiety disorders, mood disorders like depression, or substance use. Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. People with PTSD often relive traumatic events through flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive memories which can be almost as stressful as the original event. Although people do develop PTSD from experiencing natural disasters, trauma caused by other people is more likely to result in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Difference between ‘Everyday’ Anxiety and PTSD
Anxiety often serves as a warning system that alerts us to threats. Anxiety helps protect us from harm and helps us react quickly when we are in danger. When anxiety becomes excessive and is no longer beneficial, it may become an anxiety disorder such as PTSD.
In the case of PTSD, people re-experience the traumatic event that originally triggered their symptoms even when no actual threat is present. People suffering from PTSD experience a cycle of distressing intrusive memories and states of high anxiety. Behaviors, such as isolation, can emerge to avoid triggering anxiety. People experiencing the symptoms of PTSD often describe themselves as overwhelmed.
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is diagnosed after a person experiences symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However, symptoms do not always appear quickly. It can take months, or even years, for PTSD symptoms to manifest.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by four main types of symptoms:
Reliving a traumatic event through intrusive recollections, anxiety attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares
Avoidance of normal daily activities and other people
Feeling cut off from others and negative mood and thought patterns
Increased reactivity and difficulty sleeping, feeling jumpy, easily irritated and angered